Wellesley College, Houghton Memorial Chapel

C.B. Fisk, Op. 72, 1981


Wellesley College, an undergraduate liberal arts college for women founded in 1875, lies twelve miles west of Boston on five hundred acres of wooded hills and meadows surrounding Lake Waban.  Laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. under supervising architect Ralph Adams Cram, the campus is celebrated for its idyllic beauty.  A 182-foot tower dominating the academic quadrangle contains a carillon installed by Gillett & Johnston in 1931.  Heins & La Farge, authors of the original plan for New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, designed Houghton Chapel in 1897 in a curiously squat neo-Gothic style.  Noteworthy features include sculpture by Daniel Chester French and stained glass by John La Farge, Tiffany Studios, and Charles J. Connick.  Next door, the façade of the College’s first music building bears an unmistakable resemblance to the organ case at Methuen Memorial Music Hall, both designed by Hammatt Billings. - Ross Wood

Wellesley College first signed a contract in 1972 for a two-manual organ based on antique Dutch instruments from the early 17th century. The idea of an organ of ‘uncompromising authenticity’ underwent considerable evolution in the decade preceding its construction. From the beginning, it was intended that this specialized instrument would allow serious students of the organ to experience authentic antique European sounds. The design of the instrument would require extensive research into materials, construction methods, and voicing techniques involving hands-on experience with historic instruments. College officials were aware that this unusual instrument, by offering ‘ear-opening revelations,’ would be an important contribution to the international organ scene and would draw acclaimed musicians and scholars from around the world.

Research trips taken in 1974 and 1977, organized with the help of Harald Vogel, directed the focus of the project onto the instruments of Gottfried Fritzsche, represented in the surviving work of his son-in-law, Friedrich Stellwagen. Of particular interest was Stellwagen’s three-manual organ at the Jakobikirche in Lübeck, Germany. Measurements and observations made in the Jakobikirche and in the Compenius organ at Friedricksburg Castle in Denmark provided the raw data used to construct authentic key actions, wind system, windchests, and pipework. For insight into18th century construction methods Charles Fisk and his colleagues regularly consulted Dom Bédos de Celles' 1775 treatise L'art du facteur d'orgues.

The vision for this instrument was first articulated by Owen Jander, noted scholar and longtime Professor of Music at Wellesley. He frequently visited the workshop during the construction and was a constant source of encouragement, not only to Charles Fisk, but also to all the shop members. After the dedication he worked tirelessly to raise funds for the completion of the Pedal and Brustpedalia divisions, as well as for the hand-carved gilded pipe shades by sculptor Morgan Faulds Pike.

The organ’s casework is fumed white oak, and the façade pipes hammered burnished spotted metal, half lead and half tin. The wind pressure is 3 1/4" water column, and the temperament is 1/4 comma meantone. The organ is equipped with two winding systems, a human-powered double wedge bellows system, and an electric blower system using one of the wedge bellows.

Opus 72 was the last organ that Charles Fisk finish-voiced before his death in 1983. - from the C.B. Fisk website

Photo by Len Levasseur

Photo by Len Levasseur